Wonder and the Patient

Journal of Medical Humanities 36 (1):47-58 (2015)
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Abstract

Is it possible to distinguish, as sociologist Arthur Frank proposes, an ‘ideal of wonder’ within which ill persons could recover some of their former sense of life and flourishing, even within the constraints of ill-health? Beyond this, are there more general benefits in terms of health and well-being that could accrue from cultivating an openness to wonder? In this paper I will first outline and defend a notion of wonder that gives philosophical support to Frank’s proposal, noting why thinking about medical treatment may readily provoke a sense of wonder. Second I will however limit the normative force of such an ‘ideal of wonder’ noting its demands and some of the challenges facing it. The paper goes on, third, to conjecture wider benefits within and beyond the clinical encounter arising from being mindful of the wonder of embodied human agency. Fourth the paper will consider alignments between the foregoing analysis and some theoretical commitments in recent work in health geography. Finally I will briefly reconsider the notion of the body-as-territory, and the role of the imagination in bringing it under wonder’s gaze.

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